For many residents of Kannur district, Baveli is a source for drinking and irrigation water, and for others, a sacred river.

news Environment Tuesday, December 10, 2019 - 11:24

The Baveli river is the drinking water source for the residents of ⁠Peravoor town in Kannur district of Kerala. Originating from the Western Ghats, it flows through forests and even nourishes acres of lands along its course. Considered a sacred river, devotees of Kottiyoor Shiva temple in Kannur take a dip in Baveli as part of their religious ritual. Today, however, the water from Baveli has become unusable, thanks to heaps of garbage that have polluted the river. The residents, however, are not ready to sit around and wait for the government to save the river.

Baveli’s journey to rejuvenation began in a small village named Manathana in Kannur. The river flowed through the village and the residents relied heavily on Baveli for agriculture. As the river has been affected due to pollution, the residents of the village decided to revive it. They started a movement called ‘Clean Baveli’ under the banner ‘Manathanakoottam’.

The movement, the group says, is not a mere process to clean a polluted river, but a comprehensive and long-term plan that includes awareness drives, study tours, street plays, competitions and river study programmes.

While the cleaning process is scheduled to begin only on January 11, 2020, the group has been constantly engaged in implementing the first phase of 'Clean Baveli' movement, that is, creating awareness on the importance of cleaning and protecting the river.

As part of ‘Clean Baveli’, 35-km stretch of the river — starting from Chekuthanthode in Wayanad district to Palappuzha in Kannur district — will be cleaned, the organisers say. About 7,000 people will participate in the cleaning process. 

The birth of a movement

It was about two years ago that the residents of Manatha started realising that the river was getting polluted due to garbage dumping. Additionally, during the 2018 floods in Kerala, the floodwater carried heaps of plastic garbage into the river. As a result, the quality of water started degrading. 

Since then, the residents of the village stopped relying on the river, and eventually, pollution rendered the river unusable and lifeless. No authorities took measures to protect the river although residents raised several complaints.

Eventually, the condition of Baveli caught the attention of Manathanaakkoottam, a collective of residents from Manatha village, which was formed in April 2016 to conserve the environment. The collective has been engaged in several social services.

In February 2018, they decided to start a movement to clean, revive and protect Baveli. Thus, the ‘Clean Baveli’ movement. 

They realised that plastic was the main villain here. Besides, many drainages opened into the river, which exacerbated the water pollution.

Awareness and sustainability

However, even before they embark on the cleaning process – which is due to start in January 2020 -- Manathanakkoottam realised awareness is an important element in the movement if it had to be sustainable.

The group launched a slew of programmes. Members of the collective visited schools nearby and conducted awareness classes on how to preserve rivers. They conducted various competitions for students, such as mobile photography, poetry, essay writing, street plays and street drawing. They also released a video album named ‘Bavelikkoru punarjani’ (Resurrection of Baveli) as part of the programme.

The students were also taken on river study tours in five panchayats of Peravoor. Leaflets on rejuvenating the Baveli river are also being distributed to each house in the area. A souvenir on the project is underway.

In October this year, ‘Green Malayoram Mission’, a collective formed by the residents of Peravoor town, took over the ‘Clean Baveli’ movement.

“Cleaning river Baveli is just the first step in a comprehensive and long-term project. We have to revive the eco-system and the fish species. Landslides have changed the profile of the river. We want to restore that as well,” says Stanley George, Chairman of Green Malayora mission.

Stating that rejuvenation of a river is a “cultural and spiritual process”, he adds, “Awareness of waste management is important in preserving rivers. Instead of depending on governments, the public should come forward. It will take years to revive our ecosystem, but with our constant efforts, we can protect our environment.” 

With the implementation of ‘Clean Baveli’, the group of residents behind the movement hope to have a model for the environment protection in the state.

"Unlike preparing a project for environment protection and submitting it for approval from governments, we will first execute the plan and then submit the project proposal for other areas in the state,’’ says Nishad Manathana, an active member of Manathananakkoottam.

Support for the movement

The movement soon gained the support of the state government. It is being implemented with the co-operation of Haritha Kerala Mission, a Kerala government initiative. As per the plan, volunteers of the Mission will ensure the disposal of garbage collected from the river.

The movement, eventually, started gaining traction. Now, members from all major political parties, including the regional sector of Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI), are participating in the movement keeping aside their politics.